Stephanie Sherwood’s “ill-contained” at Pierce College Art Gallery

Stephanie Sherwood, ill-contained, Pierce College Art Gallery, Photo Courtesy of the Artist and the Gallery

Stephanie Sherwood’s Exhibition Unleashes Unlikely Beauty

Pierce College Art Gallery, Los Angeles
Through December 12, 2022

Written by Genie Davis
Stephanie Sherwood’s ill-contained, exhibited at Pierce College Art Gallery, offers a mix of two and three-dimensional paintings that combine a lustrous pastel palette with raw street art.

Still-life drawings and paintings seem to have transplanted and transformed themselves in many of the l paintings here, in which Sherwood literally paints outside the lines – onto discarded couches and other furnishings, as well as in her more traditionally rendered paintings. The centerpiece of the gallery exhibition, “Offload,” was site specific, incorporating a discarded sofa from the LA streets and objects found at Pierce College by students. Among them was a small computer screen playing a video of some of the artist’s own street art.

Originally, installations such as this were represented outside the gallery space directly on the street, but here, as with another recent exhibition that included Sherwood’s work, LA Abstracted at Art Share L.A., Sherwood has brought these visceral, physical pieces, along with her two-dimensional paintings, into a more conventional space.

Sherwood calls the inspiration for ill-contained a reflection on her past work and how it relates to current works, which are, she says, “a combination of these performative, ephemeral paintings on sidewalks and in alleyways on the surface of discarded furniture, and my work in my studio, which is primarily painting and installation, but is starting to incorporate sculpture as well. The exhibition at Pierce College really shows how each phase of this work led to the more recent phases.” 

Both this current exhibition and Sherwood’s past work reveal her responsiveness to her environment. According to the artist, “I feel like Los Angeles has been seeping into my pores for many years now. I’ve been living here since I was a child, but I don’t think I really saw the city for what it was until after I returned from my study-abroad year in Guangzhou, China. The reverse culture shock hit me really hard, but also opened me up to visually and emotionally processing this city and seeing the beauty in it.” Since then, she’s worked to develop her own personal relationship to the city, one which her work reflects, she relates.  

Sherwood began painting on discarded furniture items in 2019, in her Confine In Situ series. “This body of work was like a bombshell in my practice, as it opened up a wealth of inquiries which were very engaging for me,” Sherwood attests. “I felt like I could not paint on canvas after that – it just felt too permanent. Since then, I have been trying to bridge the gap in my studio by painting on paper and cardboard and experimenting with taking artworks apart and seeing [that] their component parts exist separately. Recently I started incorporating discarded furniture items into my studio works as well.” 

One of the most compelling elements of Sherwood’s work is the way in which the vivid pastels she uses offset the idea of discarded items, turning the drab, dull objects bright with her use of muted but lush candy colors, much as a sunrise illuminates and transforms trash and other detritus washed up on an industrial waterfront.

Explaining her choice of palette, she says “The way I work with color is primarily intuitive and responsive to the objects I work with. The more pastel palette was really developed years ago when I was regularly painting still life of raw meat and body parts.” Using those natural subjects, Sherwood found herself “deeply fascinated with the way that the color of flesh is transformed by the decomposition process – the way that the bloody reds give way to green-grays and chromatic neutrals. It’s a palette that has stuck with me through this new series as I am still dealing with the experience of being human and being in this ephemeral body.” 

Although Sherwood works creating both wall art and multi-dimensional objects, she says that she doesn’t have a preference as to which medium she employs. “I do enjoy the challenge of painting on a variety of surface angles and qualities to resolve a composition. [But] I am able to adapt my painting technique on two-dimensional surfaces so that I can explore more complex layering and compositions. When I am painting on three-dimensional surfaces, I try to limit the palette and keep the composition simple to resolve it on the more complex surface.”

Trained as an oil painter, she reveals that she “really fell in love with house paint” recently.  “My color palette really is suited by the chalkiness of house paint, which I augment with acrylic paint. I layer and mix the colors in the way of an oil painter…” The result is somehow both delicate and rich, as salmons and periwinkle blues pop out at the viewer like prisms of light stolen from a delicate, yet urban, sunrise.

While Sherwood’s exhibition at Pierce has closed, she plans to continue her work with mixed objects. “The site-specific piece [at Pierce] is only the second iteration of “Offload,” where I source discarded furniture to bring into the gallery to paint in the space. The first iteration was part of a fantastic group exhibition at the Brand Library and Art Center earlier this year called Generations.”

At Pierce College, incorporating objects found by art students at the school provided a fresh new context for the works, she notes. “The context for both versions is so different. I feel there is much more to explore when it comes to form and how the context affects the impact of the work.”

Another brand-new sculptural piece in the college exhibition is her smaller sculptural work, “Superannuated.” This piece incorporates a small dresser and wooden chair. “This is the first piece where I have taken discarded furniture which can no longer be used for its intended purpose and altered it to integrate the two items together.”

This type of sculpture marks what Sherwood envisions as the next step in her work, one that involves the use of discarded street objects, but will also place her back in the studio to work with them, rather than on the sidewalks of Los Angeles.   

Between the use of what can only be seen as a very west-coast, light-aware palette and objects literally culled from the sidewalks of the City of Angels, she will continue to test and stretch both her artistic boundaries and those of LA itself. Her work at Pierce Gallery is less “ill-contained” than unconstrained and filled with an unrepentant joy in both decay and rebirth.

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